The celebration that is now known as the "Manito Popcorn Festival" began back on July 4, 1972. Two young ladies named Linda & Phylis sought the support of the area churches to have an "Old Fashioned Picnic in the Park."
With no budget and a lot of hard work, the annual celebration began. They had a frog jumping contest, auctioned off box lunches and generally just had a good time. In fact, they had such a good time that they did it again in 1973. This time a few more people became interested and there were some game booths and food booths in the park. It was at this time that Linda and Phylis approached Lee Lacey with the idea that they had it started and now it was his turn to keep it going. Thus began a long association with this annual event.
In 1974, the Forman Homecoming Association was formed from a group called the Manito Community Improvement Association and a formal budget adopted.
The celebration continued on the fourth of July with much the same format until 1977.
In 1978, it was decided that due to the extremely hot weather that the celebration would be moved to Labor Day weekend. The event was expanded to three days, the Citizen of the Year and a formal Queen Contest were added to the events as well as a 40x80 tent to serve meals.
In 1979, the Community Hymn Sing was added and the Legion and Optimist Clubs served breakfast. We also built the USS Albatross II and invited Captain Jinks and Salty Sam to be part of the parade. The 12 km foot race was begun under the sponsorship of local businesses.
In 1981 the one mile Fun Run was added and a second tent was erected to cover the entertainment stage.
In 1983, Friday was added to the schedule as we celebrated the 125th anniversary of Manito. The Brothers Of The Brush were deputized and many smooth faced scoundrels were jailed. The Sisters of The Swish held a style show, a car stuffing contest among other events were added to the schedule. 1983 also marked the first year that our celebration was marred by severe weather. The tent that was used to serve meals blew down in the wee hours of the morning during very hard rain and high winds. Thanks to a lot of hard, wet work by many volunteers, the tent was again standing and the Optimist Club served breakfast in the tent that morning and the rest of the celebration continued as planned.
We followed this four day format until 1988. During this period we added the stock garden tractor pulls, which have proven to be a very popular event.
In 1988, the celebration was shortened to three days by eliminating activities on Monday. This was not a step backwards but a means to streamline the schedule and give everyone a day of rest before returning to the daily grind.
On September 12, 1994, the Homecoming Committee held their usual re-cap meeting and discussed what went wrong and what to do about it. Up until that time we had problems getting recognition. People thought it was for locals only. A member of the Homecoming Committee, the late Cindy Lawson, suggested we change the name to Manito Popcorn Festival. This suggestion was met with the approval of the committee and a new era began. We adopted by-laws and became incorporated. The schedule was revamped, a second entertainment stage was added and many new events scheduled.
The name change seemed to draw added interest in our celebration. Local news media began to notice us, and our attendance grew. Many of the events enjoyed greater participation. Two events that have enjoyed great growth are the craft show and the lip sync contest.
In 1998 a group headed by Jim Bernshausen purchased an old house trailer for the frame and built a portable stage for the festival and the entertainment tent was eliminated.
In 2001, we were struck with foul weather for the second time in our history. Just as the parade stepped off on Saturday morning, the skies opened and we were deluged with rain. The parade had to be canceled but the rest of the weekend events took place.
In 2003, it was decided that we needed to seriously look at the possibility of eliminating the tent rental. The first step in that direction was to build a new 40x120 pavilion. A fund was started and donations sought. The pavilion was completed and paid for in two years and is now an integral part of the Festival.
In 2008, to further eliminate the need to rent tents, it was decided to eliminate the craft tent and develop a Craft Village. This met with great success and 2008 saw the best craft show ever experienced at the Popcorn Festival. It was also decided in 2008 that it was time to think about replacing our ten year old stage. It served us well but the wear and tear due to the trip to and from the country each year had had its toll. A new stage fund was started with a donation by Phat Kitti who won the first Battle of the Bands. The new stage was in place for the 2010 celebration.
Today, the Popcorn Festival continues to be the largest event held in Manito. It is hard to estimate how many people this event brings into the area each year.
2012 was a very challenging event. For the first time in the celebration's history we were plagued with three days of nasty weather. Events were moved from the Park to the Forman Center, the chicken BBQ and the parade were postponed until Monday and the races until September 22. Those people attending the Festival were very understanding. With only a few complaints, it was a successful year.
2017 brought Knockerballs and a photo booth to the festival. What Knockerballs were was not well known, however they were a riot to watch. The kids at the dance enjoyed the photo booth. Both events will return! There was a bit a snag with the promised return of the chicken BBQ but that will be corrected and chicken will be cooking in 2018!
2018 brought back the chicken BBQ thanks to the Woiwode family and the Boy Scouts. It was a great success.
Manito Popcorn Festival - PO Box 44 - Manito, IL 61546
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